opinion

Is It Possible To Create An India Without Breast Cancer Deaths?

Carman Kobza | Mar 15 2019
Image credits: LadyBWell

“A healthy woman is the heart of a happy family”.

My personal life journey changed course several years ago when I wrote these words on a big whiteboard.

Breast cancer is the biggest unaddressed crisis and largest cancer killer among women in India. This is where to start this critical conversation about women, in this one of the largest countries of the world that has this biggest issue named ‘breast cancer’ in hand.

In this personal journey of mine where breast cancer is the cause, the goal is prevention rather than cure. The method definitely is ‘early detection’ and this invariably means a new approach from the so-called ‘fight it when it comes’.

The breast cancer crisis weighs heavily on me. It does so since it is 99% curable when caught early. Given this reality, why do lives continue to be shattered? I’ve associated breast cancer squarely with the word ‘needless’. ‘Needless’, as breast cancer simply has no reason to exist.  

I know many survivors in USA and Europe, and unfortunately an equal number of less fortunate women in India. Why is that? Why is breast cancer identifiable and curable in one part of the world and largely fatal in another?

Here enter our little ‘Shiny Blue Bead’ as an answer to this big question.

I discovered a study from a well-known California oncologist that sited Dutch research on 173.000 women with breast cancer from around the world. Remarkably, when a breast lump was found under 10 millimeters in size (the size of a pea), none of those women died. It was amazing to see this presented so clearly. 

But with this realization, what do we do now? 10 mm became the symbolic goal for us to reach which then became the 10 mm ‘Shiny Blue Bead’ in our ethos and philosophy. ‘The Shiny Blue Bead’ that’s the serene symbol of hope, happiness and a future that is cancer free.

The mission:  for all women, anywhere, WE WILL FIND breast cancer BEFORE the size of the Shiny Blue Bead. More aggressively putting, we absolutely MUST CATCH IT BEFORE it reaches 10 mm in size.

The most known detection techniques of mammogram and ultrasounds are almost exclusively performed within clinics, yet we know that only 3% of women in India have had these exams done. Similarly, poor statistics exist for much of the developing world. Clinical Breast Exams (CBE) performed by a specialist and self-breast exams done personally, though great practices, are not capable of detecting 10 mm size. Another important realization.

I was recently told an unbelievable yet true story. One of India’s largest and most respected breast cancer awareness organizations partnered with one of the most respected hospital networks. I can attest that both are fine organizations led by fine people. Joining forces, 10.000 vouchers for free mammograms were given out at their major rally to an energetic crowd. The press, the marketing and the ‘feel good nature’ of the awareness celebration along with the free vouchers was something to behold. But, guess what? Fast forward six months later, a senior director asked to see the data on the redeemed vouchers. How many mammograms were actually performed? Shockingly, only 3…yes, only 3 vouchers were redeemed!

For me ‘The Dots’ connected at that moment. We must approach preventing breast cancer another way. There must be some way to connect to a large number of women to help them where they are available. What is even more important is that we must do so with more than awareness and ‘feel good’ participation. We must do so with accessible/affordable/acceptable methods that are ‘welcoming and de-stigmatizing’.

That is where I realized the possibility of digital screening programs. The realization was that latest FDA certified technologies must be deployed to find early breast cancer indications before it reaches 10 mm. Our shiny blue bead is symbolic of success.

“Breast cancer is the cancer you want to get” a surprising comment from a wonderful, compassionate doctor at  Tata Social Impact Awards event last year would initially confuse you until you hear the rest of what he said. “Because it is essentially fully curable when detected early.”

Breast cancer is occurring in younger and younger ages in India and is not being discovered until later stages. The rate of breast cancer is increasing with the average age moving from the mid ’50s to the mid 40’s while rates for 20’s and 30-something increase at a more rapid pace. The urban rate is much higher than the rural, but given that less than 3% of women have had a breast exam done, the prospects are dim all around. It need not have to be this way.

It should be noted that less than 10% of breast cancer is hereditary, meaning it is the lifestyle and environmental factors that account for the rest. How do we maintain health and happiness when statistics show that 1 in 18 women will find themselves diagnosed with breast cancer? With the symbolic lesson of the little shiny blue bead, the solution is already here.  

The rest of the ‘shiny blue bead’ story can be found at ladybwell.com. With our workable model, we are training women on our mobile screening technology that would effectively help many women getting timely screening. The women trained would be well versed in both technologies as well as in the psychological and behavioural elements. This would equip them to deal with each of the women taking the screening with undiluted professionalism and caring mannerisms. In this process, we are also empowering women by creating entrepreneurs in every part of the country.

LadyBWell’s mission is to reach out to more organizations, institutions, CSR programs, communities and sponsors to offer breast health to all women. What is very important for team LadyBWell is to offer this sustainable, life-saving breast health program to deserving women at a very low cost.

We invite organizations and individuals to join in this beautiful mission to make India and other deserving countries free of any breast cancer deaths.

About The Writer
Carman Kobza is the Founder & CEO of LadyBWell, India’s first viable and sustainable Breast Health Education & Digital Screening outreach program. Email: carman@ladybwell.com